San Francisco is Leading the Way in Green Public Transportation

In an article by the Huffington Post, San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee is quoted as saying, “San Francisco is taking on problems all cities face such as congestion and the need for clean transportation and open space, and finding innovative solutions that are being modeled throughout the country.” San Francisco has been recognized and awarded for its efforts in the area of sustainable public transportation; in 2011, the non-profit effort named Transportation & Development Policy, awarded the city with the “Sustainable Transport Award.”

San Francisco is Leading the Way in Green Public TransportationThe San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has changed its focus from just being a transit agency to being a sustainable mobility service provider. The main objective of the transformed focus is to provide the maximum potential with each form of public transportation available, while at the same time reducing the impact on the environment. The following explains some of the many modes of transportation available in the Bay Area and the changes or impacts each have made toward improving the environment:

  • Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) – The BART system has been operating in San Francisco since 1957 and is a heavy-rail and subway transportation system. Approximately 370,000 riders are using this form of transportation daily. ┬áThe rail system operates on electricity and provides high speed, low emission mobility. About two-thirds of the power to operate the train cars comes from clean hydro or renewable sources. BART has partnered with a company named Bombardier to have new train cars built. The purpose is to update its aging fleet of cars with even more environmentally friendly replacements.
  • CalTrain – CalTrain is a train service that runs to and from the San Francisco Peninsula and the Santa Clara Valley, better known as Silicone Valley. About 47,000 riders use this transportation source each weekday. CalTrain also offers a service titled, “Baby Bullet.” The Baby Bullet is an express service running between San Jose and San Francisco, which makes only four or five stops along the route which reduces time for commuters. The rail operation has a proposal in process to transform the service to electric, which would reduce the level of noise and pollution. The first phase of the project would begin on the San Francisco to Tamien rails and be completed sometime in 2019.
  • Muni Metro – The Muni Metro is a light rail system that serves the San Francisco area. On average, the railway serves about 173,000 weekday riders. The cars are run on an automatic train control system. Although this type of transportation is not the most environmentally efficient, it is transporting many commuters per day, which in turn is cutting down on emissions from automobiles.
  • Bike Trails – The city has partnered up with the San Francisco Bike Coalition to carry out a project titled, “Connecting the City.” This program is proposed to create over 100 miles of bike lanes throughout the city. The ultimate result that both the city and the coalition would like to see is 20% of all commutes being traveled by bike by the year 2020.

The city has also implemented other ways of making public transportation more appealing and easier for commuters; such as creating the Clipper Card. This card is a reloadable fare card that can be used universally among the BART, CalTrain, Muni, and other transportation systems throughout the city. The city has created the SFPark app for smartphones and other devices that can give real-time parking availability, public transportation schedules, and rate information. A “smart” parking meter program raises and lowers the prices of parking meters; this is somewhat of an effort to persuade people to travel by other more “green” ways than a car. Some of the city’s parking spaces are even being turned in to green spaces with grass, a sitting bench, and attractive foliage.

The SFMTA’s efforts have resulted in having the lowest multi-modal emissions per passenger in California, have the largest biodiesel municipal fleet in the U.S., the third largest hybrid-electric bus fleet in the U.S., and 55% of the city taxis are now hybrid vehicles. The city is making great strides in going green and hopefully will be a role model for cities around the U.S.; both small and large.